The end of the 26-day San Diego County Fair leaves many participants exhausted, particularly those who operate booths and concession stands. When the lights dim at midnight on July 4, most are packing up, readying themselves for their next run of 12-hour workdays.
Some don't tire of the little-rest lifestyle. I found three concessionaires that have been working the fair for over 40 years.
Encinitas’ Rick Kasinak and his family — four generations — have been running food booths for 47 years. His grandfather started selling hot dogs and cotton candy at Minnesota fairs in the 1920s. Moving west, his dad and uncle had the concessions at the old Cajon Speedway and San Diego Coliseum before branching out to Del Mar in 1969.
Kasinak was seven years old when his dad first took him to the fair. “Walking by all the food booths, he told me, ‘Next year we'll have a stand here,'” said Kasinak. “He went out and bought a welder and some metal and built a concession stand.”
Now running three stands with his adult sons, Kasinak used to do 25 fairs a year. But now he stays put, as his California Corn Dogs, Caramel Apple Tower, and (new this year) Deep Fried Lemonade stands are permanent fixtures at the fairgrounds, open for horse-racing meets and gun, fishing, and car shows.
While happy to serve his 400–500 customers per stand each day, he came under fire this year for taking away the since-the-1970s Saltwater Taffy stand and trying Deep Fried Lemonade. “Customers were begging, ‘Where’s my taffy?’" said Kasinak. He assured them it would be back next year.
Since 1969, Kasinak said he has missed one day of the fair, when he had a fever.
Ted Platis and his family have been running the Mediterranean Greek food stand for 44 years. He started working in the booth in 1973, right after high school. Although he’s had a great fair and sales are up, he wasn’t sure he’d open this year.
Five days before he was to set up at Del Mar, the Cardiff by the Sea resident was pulling his food trailer home from a show in Las Vegas. On the I-10 near Baker, with strong winds, the top of trailer — the large, aluminum, fold-up sign section — blew off like a loose airplane wing.
“I’m grateful there were no other cars around me,” Platis said. His two brothers, Chris and Mike, also veterans of fair concessions, quickly helped him recover by re-welding the sign and painting new graphics.
“I usually pre-make all my baklava — freezing them uncooked — before each show. It really put me behind,” he said. Platis’s stand, situated in the fair’s midway (a most lucrative location), says he served 600–1000 customers a day.
Platis and his trailer will travel around the Southwest doing ten fairs and festivals this year.
My wife’s first job when she moved to California was at the fair, as the cashier for the Touch of Mink lotion booth. Thirty-one years later, her boss, Zena Pando, is still there running the booth, as she has for the past 43 years. Pando estimates her crew lathered 2800 hands with their patented lotion at this year's fair.
“I’ve seen families grow up here,” said Pando. Her biggest joy is when her customers return with little babies. “I had one woman show up with before and after pictures of her baby’s skin problems, and how [the lotion] helped make a difference. That’s gratifying. Those are my stars in heaven."
In order for her to have a few minutes of down time in the busy booth, Pando wears a name tag that reads, “Cashier.” Only regular customers know she’s the one in charge.
With little rest and a quick return to her home in Colton, Pando is already preparing for the Orange County Fair, which will open July 15.